It’s all deployments and sea bags now, but one day soon your Chief is going to dust off his combo cover and take a walk between the bullets. Destination? Retirement. You will embrace this decision with open arms; it will feel like a thank-you note from the Navy:
‘Dear Military Wife, We are re-issuing your husband into your care. We encourage you to spend the rest of your days together with your 2.5 children and rescue-dog while participating in regular PT sessions as well as routine VA-sponsored activities and all recycling programs. We recommend that you strive to be happy and prosperous. We thank you for tolerating a never-ending stream of change for all these years. Semper Gumby, Your Friends in the Armed Services’
Ok, there won’t be a note, but there will be fanfare. Your command will treat you like royalty for an hour or two, say kind things about your husband and family and generally give you unit-level rock star status. You’ll get those flowers you were owed from all those anniversaries and birthdays he missed. Enjoy this moment of pure happiness, because you have earned it. More importantly, give credit to your military man because without him your experience would not have been possible. (Admit, out loud, that sometimes you loved being a military wife too!) Hug your children and tell them that they are heroes. Thank your husband’s parents. Thank your parents. Eat some cake. Savor this wonderful time in your life…and know that after the honor and praise are over, you had better hang on, sister. You are in for a wild ride.
Here are a few things I wish I could have told you before the retirement process started:
- Accept and be accepted. Your husband is a warrior; that spirit grew from the deepest parts of his being. His work was not just a job- it was a commitment, a life choice. That fierce loyalty isn’t going to change because people threw him a party and told him ‘they had the watch’. He is still going to be a fighter, still going to love the military, still going to be a part of that world. Be prepared, Supportive Wife: it’s going to hurt him when he realizes that he is no longer mission-essential personnel. Remind him that he’s still your hero; that honor doesn’t come and go with duty status. When you openly remind him that you accept and love who he has always been, it will help him adjust and look forward to who he is going to become.
2. Be patient. You are going to get a stellar piece of advice from Retired Senior Chief Doyle Townsley that you need to share with the world. It goes like this: ‘At some point you’re going to notice that your retiree is spending a lot of time in the garage cleaning, on the boat fishing, or on the couch watching television. Give him space and let him do it. He’s working through this transition in his own way and his own time.’ You may think that it doesn’t make sense for him to miss a job that took him away from you so often. Remember that love for his family has always been separate from his love for our country. Both relationships were built on deep foundations and have taken hard work to develop-that’s one of the things you loved about him, after all! Give him the opportunity to process all the good things he accomplished and all the lives he touched without pressure. When he’s ready, he’ll thank you for waiting patiently while he had his decompression time.
3. Respect the past. Your newly-minted civilian man is not going to change his habits just because he’s no longer active duty. He will probably still get up at oh-dark-thirty in the morning and brew the same barely-digestable coffee he’s always made. When the National Anthem plays, he will straighten right up and attend to the flag accordingly. When the music stops and the world goes back to normal around you, take a moment and thank him for his sacrifices. Take a moment to appreciate the life you built together, the family you carried through the good times and bad. You both worked hard to achieve retiree status; let yourself appreciate the effort it took to get there. Remembering where you came from is the best way to direct where you’re going.
4. Be the change you wish to see. Having said that some of his habits aren’t going anywhere, it’s time to mention that all the relational issues you had while in the military are going to stick around too. In the warm glow of military retirement people tend to be extra loving and more attentive than usual. While it’s a natural reaction to a happy life event, it masks the need to be prepared for the nasty little issues that sneak back in, determined to steal your joy. When those issues rear their ugly heads, make a commitment to being the spouse you want to have. Exercise an extra measure of patience. Be attentive. Remind him that you are committed to being there for him no matter how long or rough the road may be. Listen actively and most of all, be available. You will not regret the time you spend investing in the well-being of your relationship.
5. Let yourself change, too. I have read much of the transitional literature available and my observation is that they basically ignore the military family. I know that you, my former self, know that the focus needs to be on the immediate needs of the retiree. However, our family is a team and I’m a little upset that no one seems to mention that. As a first-responder, it’s crucial that you carve out time to process the effects retirement has had and will continue to have on your life! You were a vital support to your Chief while he was on active duty, and you will continue to be just as vital long after the early-morning musters are over. Your entire life is about to be different. Allow yourself to adjust and be patient as you change, too. Your retiree needs you to be your best self in order to help them achieve their civilian dreams.
Well, girlfriend, we have come to the end of the military retirement short list. There are millions of mazes to navigate (VA benefits, anyone?!) in the future, but for now I just want you to remember to embrace the moment. Love everything about the opportunities you’ve had and look forward to the new world you’re entering. Most importantly, keep your focus and walk with purpose….together.
I’ll see you on the other side of the bullets. It’s a jungle out here!
Your Retired-Spouse Self
Andi Edwards is a former Navy Ombudsman and the wife of a retired (but still caffinated) Seabee Chief. She currently lives in the Greater Atlanta area with her 2.5 kids and rescue dog.